by Landon Johnson 04 August, 2021
What is a soul? Where do we go when we die? What is our purpose? These deep questions are addressed in Japanese Brazilian filmmaker Edson Oda’s feature debut, Nine Days.
Oda uses an innovative staging to tell the story of Will (Winston Duke) who is in charge of interviewing unborn souls to determine if they are fit for life on Earth.
Will conducts all these interviews from the comfort of his own home located in a cleverly designed “purgatory” in the desert where the souls dwell waiting and pining for a chance at life. The plot may sound strangely similar to Pixar’s Oscar-winning Soul, and it is on paper. Only Oda provides a bit more grit to the storyline and personifies earthly objects in lieu of animation.
Will spends his days watching live point-of-view footage of the living and past souls that he found suitable for existence. But when one of his most beloved souls meets her untimely demise, Will is forced to fill that space with another soul.
It’s fascinating to watch Will interview the souls who are essentially applying for a chance at life. Will asks each interviewee questions about how they would respond in situations. Would they kill their own child to save others? Obviously, their answers vary and are insightful and often profound in nature. And that’s how Will determines if they are fit for a body.
Poetic in nature with a deep focus on humanism and the ethereal, Oda tells a story of souls but also shines a light on Will’s own relatable internal struggles. One outspoken soul, Emma (Zazie Beetz) challenges Will in an unprecedented way. She forces him to look inward and face his past. His grief from losing his dear friend and perhaps some tumultuous past issues from his own time on Earth may influence his judgment.
Duke gives a tour de force performance as Will. His strong mannerisms speak volumes on their own as he really leans into this existential expression. He also offers a phenomenal monologue of Walt Whitman’s famous poem “Song of Myself.” That alone is worth the price of admission and in itself a masterclass in acting.
As thoughtful as it is ambitious, the imaginative storytelling and cinematography truly showcase Oda’s talent as a filmmaker. The tones invoke a dizzying sense of a metaphysical world that leaves the film grounded. It helps that young cinematographer Wyatt Garfield (Beasts of the Southern Wild) was director of photography. Garfield and Oda use an array of bright colors and do a tremendous job giving authenticity to the darker indoor sequences in Will’s home.
There’s so much more to be said about Nine Days but to really get it, you just have to check it out for yourself. It’s currently playing in select theaters and expands nationwide later this month.